Thursday, November 16, 2006

Is there any alternative to Powerdown? And the sooner the better?

How can there any longer be any question that peak oil will occur in the relatively near future? Even one of the most persistent and officially-appreciated cornucopeans (Cambridge Energy Research Associates or CERA, and its founder and leader, Daniel Yergin), despite the fact that their latest ridiculously expensive report (at $1000 a pop) claims to debunk peak oil, concedes that oil will peak within the next 25 years and go into decline within 50 years. Even for CERA, therefore, it no longer seems to be a question of if but rather when.

The big difference between CERA, in this latest report, and ASPO (the Association for the Study of Peak Oil) centers on the amount of unextracted oil remaining in the world. ASPO's estimates for the global production peak are based on an original endowment of 1.92 trillion barrels of oil. The CERA projections are based on an endowment of 2.93 trillion barrels of conventional oil and a total of 3.61 trillion barrels including unconventional oil like tar sands, and oil shale.

Does it really matter who is right? I totally discount CERA's numbers but does it matter, in the end, whether they are right or wrong? The simple reality is that both the optimists and the so-called doom-n-gloomers believe the global oil production will peak some time in this next quarter century.

Our current societal infrastructure has evolved for hundreds of years. More importantly it has been transformed into its present structure over these past two centuries thanks to our profligate use of fossil fuels and mineral resources. Tokyo, Nagasaki, Hiroshima, Berlin, London, Dresden and many more cities have been risen from the ashes and rebuilt since the end of WWII. But that was over sixty years ago.

The physical and social infrastructure that are going to be needed as we proceed down the decline slope of global oil production are going to be as different to that of today as our current society is from that before the industrial revolution.

It took, based on ASPO's global oil estimates, the first have of our oil endowment and 200 years to transform society from pre-industrial to the present. It will take the last half of our oil endowment to retransform society from that which presently exists to a post-industrial, post-fossil fuel structure. Even an optimist of the first order cannot possibly believe that that process will be sufficiently under way by the time we reach peak oil that we can complete the job before the remaining fossil fuels are, for all practical purposes, depleted. And yet that is exactly what must be done.

If we are to avoid social chaos, or at least a worsening of the social chaos that now exists, and if we are to avoid a massive human die-off (it is estimated that the maximum human carrying capacity without fossil fuel inputs is 2-billion people) on the post-peak downslope, we will have to put in place before that time the foundations of the infrastructure that will have to sustain us when the fossil fuels eventually run out.

I personally see no alternative before us other than now beginning a voluntary powerdown with a massive reduction in our global fossil fuel usage and, most particularly, our fossil fuel dependence. Anyone who underestimates the amount of work it will take to transform our society to one that can survive and be sustainable without fossil fuels is living in a dream world.

It's time to stop the arguing and name calling. It is time to stop the oil and resource companies from spreading the lie, directly and indirectly through organizations like CERA, that there is no problem ahead, that technology will save the day, that there are untold resources yet to be discovered and exploited. That is, as Energy Bulletin has defined it, peak-oil prozac and they are doing no one good by continuing to supply it.

Face reality.

Refuse the prozac.

Move on.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for a no-nonsense appraisal of the post peak realities facing all of us. Sugar coating the stark challenges ahead only contributes to the false sense of security that must be overcome.